La Sportiva X Country Review

Just as runners train for specific events utilizing workouts to maximize specific systems throughout the training cycle, trail running shoes have certain types of terrain and running which they are best suited for. As my unapologetic cache of trail running shoes grows each year, I find myself narrowing down particular shoes as if they’re fourth year medical students. I have my daily generalists that can handle a bit of road in comfort, my long haulers, my mountain ascent shoes, my shoes to handle sandy trails, and togs for mud and clay. I feel ridiculous, and I could go on and on. My point is that some shoes handle a particular type of running so well that they become an extension of the foot.

When I first received the La Sportiva X Country ($100; 10.0 ounces/285 grams) this past spring it appeared to be a fell running shoe. For those of you unfamiliar with fell running it involves cross country running, often through peat bogs and heavy mud, directly up and down mountains throughout the British Isles. Further inspection on the La Sportiva website confirmed that the X Country was indeed designed with fell running in mind. Now, being from a high desert area, usually mud, peat bogs, and even stream crossings don’t come into play during my daily running. So I took the X Country out for a few six to ten mile runs with some local peak scrambling thrown in and boxed them up, waiting for my invite to the Ben Nevis race.

La Sportiva X Country

The La Sportiva X Country.

Meanwhile, other trail runners had been bagging insanely technical ascents and descents of peaks usually reserved for hardcore climbers wearing little other than the La Sportiva X Country. I’d found I may have missed a niche for these shoes. After a weekend getaway to some steep and rocky alpine terrain, I realized their true calling.

Upper

I’ve often wished for an upper that repels water without the weight of incorporating a waterproof membrane. So many companies seem focused on providing a shoe that drains and dries quickly, but why can’t a shoe both repel water in small amounts as well as dry quickly after full submersion? A few quick trips through some mountain streams and the X Country was dry within a few miles. While Sportiva’s Airmesh upper absorbs water but dries quickly, the Uretech coating (a mixture of sand, rubber, and glue) throughout the upper of the shoe simply does not allow moisture in.

La Sportiva X Country - medial

The instep of the X Country.

La Sportiva’s patented scree guard over the laces of the shoe blends well into the rest of the upper creating a creaseless fit. A floating, well cushioned tongue adds padding to the top of the foot, and the heel collar is equally comfortable. Runners with narrow heels, or those who have problems with slippage, will appreciate the heel cup of the X Country which seems to mold around the heel, preventing slippage on even the steepest terrain. Toe protection is reinforced by a rubberized toe bumper which can really take a beating and saved my piggies on several steep descents through talus.

The fit throughout the X Country is true to size with a nicely accommodating midfoot and toe box despite the shoes tapered appearance. This shoe has some of the best locked down feel I have experienced which makes it very effective on technical or cambered terrain.

Midsole

“Exceptionally simple” is how I would describe the firm, yet protective midsole of the X Country. La Sportiva employed their MEMlex EVA that is very hard to the touch yet surprisingly comfortable and resilient while on one’s feet. There really is no noticeable arch and a very flat platform (5 mm heel drop) leads to a very nimble feel. The last of the X Country feels very much like a highly flexible cross country flat, but this flexibility reduces the overall stability provided by its low stack height.

La Sportiva X Country - lateral

The outside of the La Sportiva X Country showing the thin midsole.

Outsole

Somehow La Sportiva engineered their FriXion AT outsole to be both sticky and durable at the same time. I feel like I can’t get these V-shaped lugs to show more than minimal wear after close to 150 miles on fairly nasty terrain. Sportiva’s V-Groove lugs are well spaced enough to shed the clay and mud I did encounter quite easily, and after deliberately caking them with clay, the lugs had shed all debris within a quarter mile or so. The large rubber lugs also absorb some impact for extra cushioning, which I really noticed when trying to bomb a downhill. La Sportiva calls this their Impact Braking System which is designed to minimize impact downhill and maximize traction while ascending, and these shoes can climb with the best of them digging into mud, rock, loose gravel, and sand with equal ease.

La Sportiva X Country outsole

The La Sportiva X Country’s outsole.

Overall Impressions of the La Sportiva X Country

Pairing the right shoe for the terrain is a bit like pairing a fine wine with a gourmet meal, or pairing an American lager with your next noodling tournament or fireworks accident; it simply enhances the experience. Seeing highly skilled mountain runners choosing these shoes to tackle the most burly mountain terrain out there sparked me to do the same, and it enhanced the experience.

While I wouldn’t choose the X Country for longer than a half marathon’s worth of technical trail, I’ve read accounts of runners enjoying this shoe for up to fifty miles. If short, fast, and steep is your think (a la fell running) then I haven’t experienced another shoe that compares with such a locked down fit and aggressive lug pattern.

I highly recommend this shoe for your next technical mountain outing, and, in the meantime, I’ll be awaiting my invitation for a mid-packer at Ben Nevis.

Call for Comments

Have you worn the La Sportiva X Country? If so, what did you use them for and what did you think of the shoe?

Anyone got stories of any crazy peak bagging in these shoes?

Tom Caughlan

is iRunFar's Minimalist Gear Editor. Tom’s passion for trail running and specialty running retail experience shine through in all of his highly technical reviews, which do range outside minimalist shoes.

There are 20 comments

  1. [email protected]

    This is a nice shoe. Too bad La Sportiva is dropping this model and it won't be part of their Spring 13 collection. They are adding some nice models but I don't feel anything replaces the X Country.

  2. Chris P.

    Thanks for the Review Tom. I've been putting in quite a few technical miles this summer in the Skylight 2.0's, which have the same upper as the X Country but a more built up midsole and less aggressive outsole. I've really enjoyed them and felt they're a great shoe, but could really dig the flatter midsole profile of the X Country.

    Do you know if these shoes have a rock plate in the forefoot? Your mention of the flexibility makes me inclined to think they don't, but I haven't found anything stating one way or the other.

    It's funny you should mention top runners scrambling up technical peaks in these shoes – I had noticed the same thing in a number of pictures recently. I guess Sportiva really has an advantage over some of the bigger brands in a shoe with this utility.

  3. Tom Caughlan

    Chris,

    No rockplate that I could find or feel while running. I didn't have any problems really, and I find the full coverage of the hard but sticky outsole to ward off all but the sharpest rocks. I really love running in this shoe on steep solid rock!

  4. Trailrunner 76

    How similar are these to the C-Lites, I've been eyeing these up. I wore the C-Lites two weeks ago at a 50miler and the did well for me.

  5. Eric Payne ultrapayn

    I've been using the X-Countries in concert with Vertical K's as my exclusive trail running shoes since last December, so I figure I should be able to comment here.

    Overall, the X-Countries may be my preferred shoes to the Vertical K. The additional weight is noticeable, but the slightly longer/wider footbox seems to fit my foot a bit better. Being an ex-Inov 8 user, I came to really enjoy the agressive and deep lugs found on Inov-8s. The lugs on the X Country are very similar ,and FANTASTIC in snow and mud. These shoes were certainly my go-to for all winter running, and will be again this winter. The lugs are very easy to install screws into as well.

    I've worn these for 50k training runs, as well as for around 30 miles at Hardrock. I could have worn them longer, and never felt like they were only good for shorter runs. If your arches and feet are strong, they should be fine in all of the nastiest terrain. Boulder hopping, stream crossings, and fast hardpack are all fun in these shoes. Without hesitation I would say that the large lugs are slightly annoying when on very technical terrain however. On more than one occasion I've found myself rolling my ankle which I never do on other minimal shoes. My blame is placed on the tall lugs, but I suppose it could also be coincidental and/or fatigue. The Boulderfield on Long's Peak comes to mind here…

    My main problem with the X-Country is their durability. My first pair tore at the junction of the yellow upper and black toe guard material. I am not the only person to report this, and it was photographed well on the Bedrock and Paradox blog. La Sportiva took care of me well, and wound up replacing them no questions asked under their warranty. Other pairs of X-Countries have done this same problem around mile 250. If it weren't for this weak point in the shoe, they may be my perfect shoe.

    These are being discontinued next year, and replaced with the Anakonda. I hope that they've fixed the construction of their upper, yet retain the great fit and agressive lugs.

  6. Roy

    Love the performance of the shoe and the outsole is quite grippy. With its simple midsole, the only drawback is a very short life span. Used them for training and raced in them for a marathon and half marathon distance on rocky stuff. They were maxed out in less than 4 months. It also took forever to drain. My replacement is now the MT110.

  7. Derrick Spafford

    Have run through a couple of pairs of XCountry and couple of Skylites. Love them both in different ways. In direct comparison, XCountry would be more flexible, and have better traction…especially in muddy conditions.

    The Skylite has a softer ride though, so I find myself going with them more as a cross-terrain shoe where I might have to hit road sections between rail trail or hard packed/dry dirt.

    1. Rod

      Thanks Derrick.I notice you are in Canada.Mec carries some of the La sportiva line but not these. Can you recommend other Canadian sources, online or other?

      1. Derrick Spafford

        Hey Rod. Yeah MEC is usually the place to go. I think North Shore Athletics in BC stocks La Sportiva, so you might be able to get them from there or have them order them for you.

        Also, sometimes if you contact some of the US dealers and let them know that a certain model isn't available in Canada then you can get them to ship them to you. Good luck! Definitely worth tracking them down.

  8. Derrick Spafford

    Have loved the Original C-Lites and on my 18th pair. However, I've recently been transitioning to doing the bulk of my training in lower drop shoes and wearing Vertical Ks and Xcountry much more. The traction of course is going to be the same between the C-Lites and XCountry. The main difference, aside from weight, is the closer to the ground feel in the XCountry, greater flexibility and slightly wider toe box.

  9. Andrew

    I haven't run in these, but my girlfriend had 3 pairs since last summer. She loved running them, but each pair lasted only a month or less before the uppers ripped wide open.

  10. Jeff

    I also use X Countrys and Vertical Ks exclusively now. X Countrys are my preferred choice for muddy runs, but can be a little rough on very hard packed trails.

    Vertical Ks are perfect for the trails here in Northern California generally. For longer distances I am hoping the slightly beefed up Helios gives me an ultra shoe. I did run my first 50k in the Ks, but I did feel I needed a bit more support with a ton of climbing/descending.

    I have run in X Countrys up to about 2.5 hours with good results, and they have held up well for me. As for the comparison to Inov-8s, I tried the Trailroc 245 with disasterous results (blisters, fall, surgery).

    La Sportiva until further notice for me

Post Your Thoughts